Easter Sunday was gorgeous here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The day dawned clear and warm with promises of almost summer like temps in the valley. I was pleased to be able to join up with Cross Country Stan for an afternoon climb…
We left Bethel Middle School (elevation 2679’) and began our ride up Lake Logan Road for the 18 mile climb to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was quite warm as we pedaled along the Pigeon River. Being Easter Sunday also meant that there was quite a bit of traffic sharing the road with us. Fortunately, everyone seemed to be in a sharing spirit and waves and greetings were the norm for the day.
The first nine miles of the climb are not difficult as they pretty much run alongside the Pigeon. There is one moderate climb above the Lake Logan dam and it was along here that I struggled to keep up with Cross Country Stan. He has many years of riding under his belt and can seemingly find another gear without so much as breaking any kind of sweat. He and the Wood-man are similar to each other in that regard. So, I lost his rear wheel for a bit but not for as long as I have in the past.
This was my first ride of any consequence since returning from the Low Country of S.C. and the climb above the dam was my first climb since before going to the Low Country. I could feel it in my legs as I made my way up the incline.
Once I dropped back down to the lake level and we headed on up Lake Logan Rd, I was finally warmed up and just enjoyed cruising along and chatting with Cross Country Stan. Upon arriving at Sunburst Campground and picnic area, Stan recognized his neighbor, who was there with his large family enjoying a picnic.
After a brief visit, we started the more serious part of the climb as the grade increases significantly from this point to the top. It had been three weeks to a month since I had last ridden in this area. What had been the end of winter was clearly now the beginning of the spring. The various colors of “new” green were abundant whereas before had been the dull browns of winter.
After climbing five miles, we came to the first arch bridge where the Pigeon crosses under NC 215. The river, really a creek by flat land standards, was rushing full of water as it cascaded across the rocks and under the road. A group of young men and their dogs were certainly enjoying their swim below the bridge!
After a short break in which I consumed my cramp fighting banana and sucked down some Gatorade, we proceeded on up the mountain. Immediately after leaving the water fall, the road takes an almost hairpin turn to the right and the grade increases dramatically. The road has a long straight stretch that leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination about the climb ahead. One benefit to having lots of curves, is you can fool yourself into thinking that it will level out just around the next curve. This straight stretch offered no such illusion as I watched Cross Country Stan get smaller and smaller in the distance.
At this point, I felt that either my Fuji had a flat rear tire or I had a flat personal tire! It was a struggle to keep going and knowing that I still had 3.5 miles to the top didn’t help my mental anguish at all. I tried to focus on the sights of very early spring as we had climbed above the point where the trees were more fully leafed out.
After a right hand curve and another straight climb, I caught up with Cross Country at the 3 Arch Bridge. He had stopped to let me catch up and ended up chatting with a gentleman, who turned out to be from Jonathan Creek,which is a local area in Haywood County. He was impressed that we had climbed this far on bikes and asked if he could take our picture. We willingly obliged him.
(Shot with my HTC Thunderbolt – 3 Arch Bridge View)
The above image was taken from the 3 Arch Bridge. You can see from the relative lack of green on the trees that spring is still coming to this elevation (4464’). We alternated between riding in full sun and in then shade of the rock cliffs from this point. We would alternately get warm to cool as the headwind coming down the mountain was bringing brisk air into the shadows. It felt great to me at this point!
Traffic, particularly motorcycles, was abundant on the road and there was rarely a moment of quiet. One very large truck/camper/horse trailer combo greeted us as they made their way down the mountain following a weekend of camping with their equine buddies. With a sharp left hand turn, we traversed the mountain face one final time before a right hand sharp turn begins the final climb to the top (approx. 51234’ elevation).
A sign advising “Blue Ridge Parkway Just Ahead” should be considered false advertising to cyclists as the tough part of the climb is just beginning. The grade increases to 14% according to my bike computer and goes for the final three quarter mile (approximate).
It was at this point that I nearly reached my mental breaking point on this gorgeous day. I literally did not believe I could push my cranks over one more time but I knew Cross Country Stan had gone before me and I also knew that I had made this climb successfully before so I hunkered down, well, actually stood up, and jammed my way further up the mountain. The next sign that I came upon indicated Blue Ridge Parkway and I knew I was going to make it to the 5324’ top.
I pulled alongside Cross Country and realized that we had taken 2 hours and 14 minutes to go the 17.97 miles indicated on my computer. This was slightly faster than I did it last year in late July. I’m sure Cross Country Stan could have knocked quite a bit of that time off for himself but he was gracious as always and paced himself to my speed.
After a brief discussion about which route to take home, we turned around and headed back the way we came. I’ve mentioned before, although not in this post, how bad the road condition is on NC 215. It seemed I felt every bump and hole in the road on the way down the mountain hitting more than one hidden depression in the road as we entered and exited shadows and shade from the tree canopy.
I was reaching speeds of 35 mph and feeling quite uneasy given the quality of the surface. I hit one depression that I thought might have driven my seat post up… well, you know what I mean. My forearms and hands were getting quite tired from squeezing my brakes to keep from building up too much speed. I was constantly reminding myself not to brake in the curves.
It certainly didn’t take us 2 hours and 14 minutes to descend! We were seemingly back at the Sunburst Campground in about 10 minutes! One final short visit with Stan’s neighbor and we cruised on back to our starting point arriving back at the vehicles just past 5:30 p.m.
I was worn out and exhausted and in bad need of a cold drink. But, man, did I feel good! I told Stan that I would plan better next time and have a cooler of ice cold recovery drinks at the end of our next ride! A beautiful day was coming to a close as we said our good-byes and headed to our respective homes. I’m still puzzled about one thing… I wonder if Stan ever broke a sweat yesterday.
Gr8SmokiesZeke Cap makes it to the Hollywood Bowl…
Bro Dave reports that my 3 panel moisture wicking cap made it to church on Easter Sunday.
Seems Bro Dave’s church, along with two other churches, had a combined service at the Hollywood Bowl. He reports between 10,000 and 12,000 people attended the service and that the fine cap from Walz kept his head nicely protected when the sun was out!
(P.S. elevation figures are taken from Google Earth and indicate that we climbed 2645’ in 17.97 miles for an average increase of 147.19’ ft. per mile from beginning to end. As noted, the more significant climb begins at Sunburst Campground, elevation 3117 and covers the last 8 miles for an increase in elevation of 275.86’ every mile. This section of road will again be a significant part of the Blue Ridge Breakaway, August 20, 2011)